Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington D.C. – October 26, 2008…Top stories this week include a PNN exclusive on the telecommunications industry in Iran; continued coverage of the U.S. presidential election as well as beginning analysis of the upcoming presidential election in Iran; and interviews with the father and lawyer of Esha Momeni, a female Iranian-American graduate student who was arrested on October 15 in Tehran.


News and Views October 20 – A PNN exclusive took an in-depth look into the telecommunications industry in Iran amid reports from different websites and blogs in Iran that customer dissatisfaction is growing. The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) recently increased tariffs on all text messages in Iran sent with Latin characters. Allegedly, the move was made to protect the Farsi language. PNN has learned that the ministry uses a voice-over-Internet-protocol (VOIP) system to transfer the data, which keeps costs at a minimum. Despite this, the ministry has increased the tariffs. PNN has learned that text messaging has become the most profitable service for the ministry. Unofficial statistics show that last year’s ICT revenue topped nearly $1.1 billion dollars. PNN has compared Iran's market with neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. According to research by Bloomberg, the mobile phone market in Saudi Arabia is the most rapidly expanding sector in the region. PNN also reported that many of the services provided in Iran’s neighboring countries are cheaper than Iran.

News and Views October 22 – A PNN follow-up revealed that, based on Internet blogs, customer dissatisfaction from telecommunication services in Iran is intensifying. Hence, authorities in Iran have started counterattacking these complaints by releasing statistics showing that there has been progress made in both the number of customer subscribers and quality of services provided. PNN reported that these numbers contradict the information given by the media inside the country. A non-governmental organization in Iran that concentrates on this sector told PNN that the private sector is currently able to deliver Internet services with much better quality at a quarter of the price. Meanwhile, the ICT ministry recently acknowledged that it has charged customers over the last 5 years for undelivered text messages. According to Hamshahri Newspaper in Tehran, the latest research shows that 10% of text messages sent by customers in Iran never reaches their intended recipients. According to archived information, the judiciary in Iran has shut down 110 Internet service providers (ISP) between 2004 and 2005. The ministry claimed at the time that since these ISPs are providing long distance telephone calls, it has suffered a $32 million dollar loss. Now PNN has learned that although the ministry is using the exact technology to transfer the calls through the Internet, it still charges customers for traditional landline tariffs. A journalist who spoke under the condition of anonymity said, “The ministry has been using VOIP technology to transfer calls over the Internet for the past 3 years, yet it still charges its users a hefty price."

News and Views October 24 – In a final look at the telecommunications industry, PNN took a closer look at prepaid telephone card tariffs. PNN’s investigative report revealed that prepaid telephone card tariffs are 30% higher than normal landline tariffs. A PNN tally of received emails from people with complaints about their prepaid phone cards indicates that when customers enter the code to add credit to their account, the amount added is 5% to 20% less than what should be the indicated balance. A journalist source in Tehran confirmed this statement. PNN compared cell phone services in the United States and Iran. By comparing the tariffs printed on Iran’s ICT official website with rates for T-Mobile USA, PNN has learned that T-Mobile users in the USA pay $59.99 for 1500 minutes of talk and 100 text messages. However, Iranian ICT users are paying $72 to $81 for the same amount of talk time. PNN pointed out that the absence of a unified anti-monopoly law allows the ICT to change tariffs overnight.


News and Views October 23 – Iranian Speaker of the Majlis Ali Larijani said Wednesday that Iran would prefer Democrat Senator Barack Obama in the White House next year. Mr. Larijani also dismissed any idea that the U.S. would attack Iran. "We are leaning more in favor of Barack Obama because he is more flexible and rational, even though we know American policy will not change that much," Mr. Larijani said at a press conference during a visit to Bahrain.

48 Hours October 25 – Researcher and political commentator Hassan Dai, who gave his opinions on the possible options for the next U.S. president with regard to foreign policy on Iran, said that he did not know of a single option concerning Iran that was not discussed extensively during the race for the White House between Senators McCain and Obama. "There is a consensus among all policymakers in the United States, that if Iran reaches the point of no return with regard to the capability of building a nuclear bomb, then a military attack would be inevitable," he added. "Contrary to common belief, the most effective sanction imposed against Iran has been done outside of the UN Security Council mainly by Washington and its allies," he said. "This has led to divestment by major oil companies which are hesitant to invest in Iran's oil and natural gas industries," he added. Mr. Dai surmised that because of Senator Obama's anti-war stance on Iraq, he would have more success in marshalling other countries in confronting Iran's nuclear ambitions. Mr. Dai then gave his views on diplomatic measures by stating, "Diplomacy doesn't mean throwing the towel in with the Iranians. The only alternative that really remains is something that has not been tried before.” He spoke of diplomacy’s game-changing quality because he believes the Iranian government has been operating on the assumption that the U.S. is not serious about pursuing diplomatic relations.


News and Views October 20 – Senator Barak Obama won the support of former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell, PNN reported on Sunday. Senator Obama’s campaign raised a record $150 million last month, dealing a double blow to rival Senator John McCain's presidential campaign. Senator McCain, despite trailing in opinion polls and fundraising, said he still expects to win the November 4 election and could sense "things are heading our way." Mr. Powell, who served several Republican presidents including George W. Bush as his first Secretary of State, said either candidate would make a good president but he was critical of McCain's uncertainty on how to deal with the economic crisis. He stated, "I think he [Senator Obama] is a transformational figure... His is a new generation coming onto the world stage, American stage." Mr. Powell, who in the past was mentioned as possibly the first black U.S. president, told NBC's Meet the Press that he backed Senator Obama "because of his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he's reaching out all across America." Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress on Monday that another wave of government spending might be needed as the economy limps through what could be an extended period of sub-par growth. It was the first time the central bank chairman had explicitly endorsed a second stimulus package. The government sent out about $100 billion in tax rebate checks over the summer to try to jump-start the economy, but consumer spending has struggled since then. Mr. Bernanke said, "With the economy likely to be weak for several quarters, and with some risk of a protracted slowdown, consideration of a fiscal package by the Congress at this juncture seems appropriate." Retail sales fell for three consecutive months through September.


News and Views October 21 – PNN continued its coverage of the U.S. presidential election. With two weeks to go until the election, Senator McCain and Senator Obama continued their campaigns in the crucial states of Pennsylvania and Florida respectively. Senator McCain campaigned in Pennsylvania where the latest polls show Senator Obama ahead by an average of 10 percentage points. Senator McCain, whom the press sometimes refers to as “Maverick McCain”, showed his characteristic resoluteness that has made him popular. He spoke of his rival saying, "He believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs and opportunities for all Americans." Senator Obama scheduled a break from the campaign trail later this week to visit his gravely ill grandmother in Hawaii. The Illinois Senator is canceling events Thursday and Friday to be with 85-year-old Madelyn Dunham, who helped raise him. Senator Obama took a moment to speak of his grandmother saying, “She's the one who taught me about hard work. She is the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me, and although she could no longer travel I know that she's watching tonight and that tonight is her night as well." Yesterday, U.S. Senator Obama and former Democratic rival Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton stood together in Orlando seeking to swing the state of Florida to vote Democrat. It was the first time the bitter opponents from the Democratic primaries appeared together since a pair of fundraisers in early July. Senator Clinton (D-NY) spoke to the 50,000 gathered announcing, "Let's get as many votes banked as possible so we don't have any problem on November 4th."

News and Views October 23 – With less than two weeks before the election Senator Barack Obama was back in one of the key battleground states, Indiana. The Democratic Presidential hopeful continued to push his tax plan while attacking his opponent's plan on corporate taxes. This was Senator Obama's final campaign trip before heading to Hawaii to visit his ailing grandmother. On Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain took his "Straight Talk Express" on a bus tour across Florida, trying to keep Florida from swinging over to the Democrats. Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama said on Wednesday that if elected, Republican John McCain would continue the policies of the administration of President George W. Bush, which he believes have endangered the country's national security. Speaking in Richmond, Virginia, Senator Obama said that voting Senator McCain into the White House would mean a continuation of current policies that have already put the U.S. economy in crisis. Meanwhile, Senator McCain and running mate Alaska Governor Sarah Palin seized on comments from Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Joe Biden that Senator Obama would face a "generated crisis" within six months of becoming president because adversaries across the world would want to test his mettle. Senator McCain stated his preparedness for any possible crisis saying, "Senator Biden referred to how Jack Kennedy was tested in the Cuban missile crisis. I had a little personal experience on that. I was a pilot onboard the USS Enterprise, I was ready to go into combat at any minute. I know how close we came to a nuclear war and I will not be a president that needs to be tested. I have been tested."


News and Views October 24 – PNN reported that with 11 days left before Election Day, Senator Obama is leading in the key states of Ohio and Colorado. Both states were cast as red states in 2004. Senator McCain held events in Colorado and another swing state, New Mexico, where voters also favor the Democratic candidate. Meanwhile, Senator Obama is in Hawaii, visiting his ailing grandmother, 85-year old Madelyn Dunham. In an interview with ABC television, Obama said his grandmother is gravely ill and that he was not sure whether she would make it to Election Day. Senator Obama returns to the campaign trail Saturday for a rally in Nevada. Meanwhile, the New York Times endorsed Senator Obama for president on Friday, saying the Democratic hopeful has grown into the kind of leader the United States needs after eight years of George W. Bush in the White House. Two former Republican governors, William Milliken of Michigan and William Weld of Massachusetts, endorsed Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator Obama. Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, a harsh critic of the Bush Administration, also endorsed Senator Obama for President on Thursday.

News and Views October 25 – PNN’s U.S. presidential election wrap up for the week focused on the Vice Presidential candidates. While research shows that both parties have roughly equal chances of winning, both vice presidential candidates are criticized for their economic stimulus plans. In terms of personality, the media has designated Governor Palin as being more accessible than Senator Biden is, albeit her polarizing character is off-putting to some. The latest polls show Senator Obama leading the race by an average of 8 percentage points. A New York Times article commented on Senator McCain’s campaign strategy alleging that it is laden with mistakes and strategists are pointing out that Senator McCain may lose Florida and other southern states.


News and Views October 25 – PNN was joined by energy analyst Dr. Bahman Aghaii Diba for this week’s update on how the current financial crisis is affecting Iran. Dr. Diba answered PNN’s questions about the impact of a possible OPEC decision to reduce oil production. Dr. Diba related to viewers how a drop in oil prices would substantially affect Iran’s undiversified economy. He stated that such a move could cause a financial crisis to develop in neighboring countries. He compared and contrasted Iran’s oil economy to the oil economies of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Iranian Speaker of the Majlis, Ali Larijani, was the next topic of discussion. Mr. Larijani said that a democratic U.S. President would benefit Iran. Dr. Diba disagreed with Mr. Larijani’s viewpoint saying, “Senator Obama’s and Senator McCain’s foreign policy are not that different, especially on Iran. As long as Iran does not change its behavior, a relationship between the two countries would not be possible.”

48 Hours October 26 – PNN continued coverage of the effects of falling oil prices. As declining prices pose a serious threat to the Iranian economy, energy analyst Rob Sobhani said Iran's petroleum and natural gas industry has suffered acutely from mismanagement and lack of transparency over the years. Mr. Sobhani is an energy analyst based in Washington, D.C. with specialization in the Caucuses. Mehdi Firouz-Khaki, a journalist focusing on petroleum affairs, joined 48 Hours via phone from Tehran saying, "Iranian leaders should have invested tens of billions of dollars in the upkeep of Iran's reserves to avoid their current predicament. Iran has enough reserves of natural gas for both domestic consumption and exports.” Mr. Khaki-Firouz said that because of international sanctions and declining investments, the United Arab Emirates replaced Iran as the second exporter of oil in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Later in the talk show, Mr. Sobhani argued that there is always a positive aspect soaring oil prices. "Rising prices are not necessarily a bad thing. People in the United States are now seriously thinking about alternative sources of energy and conservation, which wouldn't have been possible with a barrel of oil costing twenty dollars.” Mr. Khaki-Firouz added that with oil prices plummeting, it would hamper the government's ability to keep government subsidies at bay. "Lower oil revenue would make livelihood more difficult for ordinary Iranians on a fixed income," he concluded.


Roundtable with You October 21 – Former Iraqi Minister of Environmental Affairs Dr. Mishkat Al-Moumin joined Roundtable with You for an in depth discussion of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in Iraq. Dr. Al-Moumin is currently a visiting scholar at George Mason University in Virginia. Questions surrounding the influence of the SOFA agreement were discussed. Dr. Al-Moumin noted that Muqtada Al-Sadr is in disagreement with the Status of Forces Agreement. Dr. Al-Moumin suggested grounds for doing so might have self-protective reasons, since Mr. Al-Sadr faces two arrest warrants for the killing of liberal Shia cleric Seyyed Majid Al-Khouei in 2003. Dr. Al-Moumin reminded viewers that in order for the SOFA agreement to be effective like any other political agreement it needed to be communicated to the people of Iraq. Dr. Al-Moumin stressed the necessity of engaging Iraqis at all levels in the process. He emphasized his disappointment that even in Iraq today, citizens are "kept in the dark and they don't have enough information and, as a result, they cannot contribute to the discussion one way or the other". Commenting on Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani role, he suggested that although Ayatollah Al-Sistani is a national figure whose words carry a lot of weight, he is also tired of being in the spotlight and is looking to politicians to take the lead in this matter. In closing, Dr. Al-Moumin spoke of the allegations of Iranian interference in the parliament vote stating that, “Just like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Iran is also trying to protect its own interests in the region and, as a result, wants to be the dominant force in the area, but if the Iraqi government engages its own people, and allows them to know that this is a good proposal for their safety, security, and prosperity, then it would be difficult for outside forces to interfere. Thus Iran will have a diminished role and influence”.

News and Views October 24 – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that negotiations on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) are continuing both in Washington and in Baghdad. Speaking to reporters in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, she dismissed Iran's attempt to overturn the proposed Iraq-U.S. Strategic Security Agreement; however, she did not set a date for finalization of the agreements.


Roundtable with You October 24 –The show looked at diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria with guest Meyrev Wurmser, the Director of Middle East Studies at the Hudson Institute. Ms. Wurmser stated that although the Middle East peace process is something that may have eluded several U.S. administrations and plenty of politicians in the region, there have been attempts since the Annapolis Conference to resolve the major issues between Israelis and Palestinians. She believes that the two state solution advocated by President Bush is an attainable goal. Ms. Wurmser noted that, in her opinion, the Arab world is also a bit restless in finalizing any type of peace deal because they see continued suffering in the region. In response to a statement that perhaps the Arab world wants to continue this drama and to stifle its own people’s knowledge about human rights violations within their nations, Ms. Wurmser expressed her disagreement. She stated that there are two important aspects in play – the influence of Iran and Syria in the area, and the constant battle of Shiites vs. Sunnis. Ms. Wurmser also mentioned that the new U.S. president would inherit a difficult, but not impossible, goal. It all depends on their approach. In her perspective, Senator John McCain may be better suited to tackle the issues and to bring all sides together simply because leaders know him more and have an established relationship with him. Concerning diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon, Ms. Wurmser noted that Syria is in a defensive mode right now because there is a movement towards freedom and democracy in the Arab world. With major world powers at play, Syria does not want to be seen as backing down, but at the same time, Syria is confident that with Hezbollah gaining more power within the Lebanese government, their interests will be protected. In response to a question of whether the new relationship between Syria and Lebanon is a distraction that has been co-opted between Iran and Syria to cause further trouble in the world, Ms. Wurmser stated that it is possible that Iran and Syria would want to cause an illusion of Arab unity with an indirect attempt to influence the policies of the region.


News and Views October 20 – Markets around the world opened high Monday morning amid growing credit confidence. News of an upcoming global financial summit in Washington contributed to the stock rally. In Europe, stocks gained 2% and the Dutch government is working to prop up failing banks in the Netherlands. Asian stocks closed with large gains today. South Korea continues to prop up its struggling banks. The NIKKEI index reported a 3.6% higher increase today. PNN’s final report on the world markets noted that interbank lending is easing. In the second part of the segment, PNN spoke with Dr. Siamak Shojaii, the Dean of Business Administration at Central Connecticut State University about recent developments. Dr. Shojaii noted that in response to the global crisis, EU and U.S. leaders have been acting swiftly to bring about stability to the global marketplace. He remarked that President Bush's plan to host an international summit in dealing with the crisis is a bold move that might have the implication of being another Bretton Woods Accord. Dr. Shojaii noted that since the world financial crisis surfaced, major world governments have infused over 2000 billion dollars to keep their financial institutions afloat, and to prevent an economic meltdown. The plan to have an international summit is not, as some might have suggested, an attempt to socialize the markets. Rather the impetus behind the summit is to create a more stable format for the world to follow. Dr. Shojaii noted that crisis would affect Iran indirectly by falling oil prices. This will have a negative impact on the Iranian market, forcing the government to further dip into their foreign currency reserve, which in turn will bring about a deep recession that could take years to overcome.

News and Views October 21 – European equities rose on Tuesday signaling to investors that adjustments to the system could be starting to work. France is slated to inject 14 billion dollars into the country’s six largest banks. Russia reported it would expand a government agency that guarantees retail bank deposits. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia’s economy is well prepared for long-term external shocks. PNN also spoke with Paris-based finance professor Jamshid Assadi about the upcoming OPEC meeting in Vienna in November. According to him, Iran is asking for a reduction in oil production. However, given the worldwide economic troubles it is unlikely that OPEC ministers will approve a price increase during their emergency session. He stated that a price cut would result in a recession for Iran's already troubled economy.

News and Views October 22 – Fears of a global recession overshadowed signs of a bounce back in the British economy. Britain’s leading share index, the FTSE, was down 158 points at midday. Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King stated that a British recession is likely. Many economists have suggested that Britain is already facing a recession. Mr. King said the economic outlook remains very “uncertain.”

News and Views October 23 – According to reports, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told Congress on Thursday he is "shocked" at the breakdown in U.S. credit markets and said he was "partially" wrong to resist regulation of some securities. Despite concerns he had in 2005 that risks were being underestimated by investors, "this crisis, however, has turned out to be much broader than anything I could have imagined," Greenspan remarked on the current situation as he prepared for a meeting with the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He expressed his disbelief at the current situation by saying, "Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder's equity – myself especially – are in a state of shocked disbelief."


News and Views October 21 – PNN learned that diplomats from six world powers have held their first talks in a month on the Iranian nuclear dispute; however, it appears that there is no consensus on how to proceed. Robert Wood, U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson, confirmed that diplomats from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China discussed Iran's nuclear program in a conference call Monday. According to Mr. Wood, diplomats reaffirmed their commitment to a dual strategy of offering Iran incentives to stop sensitive nuclear work and imposing sanctions if it refuses. He said the six powers agreed to remain in close contact on the Iran issue, but there was no definitive word on future meetings. In an interview with BBC Arabic Services, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated that the U.S. is prepared to meet and talk with Iranian officials. On Monday Mohammad El-Baradei, IAEA chief, said that Iran would have to opt out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in order to start producing weapon's-grade uranium.

NewsTalk October 22 – Journalist Dr. Alireza Nourizadeh and political analyst Dr. Mohsen Sazgara discuss the upcoming presidential election in Iran, which is set to take place in early spring. Reports indicate that the election has already started to take on a negative tone as various factions have started their attacks on one another. The weekly magazine Sobh-e-Sadegh, which is linked to the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp, launched allegations that the guests who appeared at a recent conference hosted by former President Khatami received cash payments for their support. Many of Mr. Khatami’s supporters are urging him to run as a candidate in the upcoming race. In foreign policy updates, it was reported that Iran might be trying to strengthen ties with its Arab neighbors. In this regard, Speaker of the Majlis, Ali Larijani, made an official trip to Bahrain to meet with high-ranking officials. The Chairman of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council will travel to Tehran next week. Dr. Sazgara remarked that the intended opening of a U.S. Interest Section in Iran, which has received many harsh comments from Iranian officials, is something that should have happened many months ago. It is Dr. Sazgara’s opinion that the opening of the section would occur after the U.S. and Iranian presidential elections, because current U.S. officials are unlikely to deal with President Ahmadinejad. Concerning a possible natural gas consortium between Qatar, Iran, and Russia, which would be similar to OPEC, Dr. Nourizadeh noted that Russia intends to take the leading role in the development of the consortium. Dr. Nourizadeh mentioned, "so long as Iran's gas and oil is engaged as part of a power struggle within and without its borders, neighbors would want to take advantage of that." A formal announcement on the establishment of the organization is pending.

Roundtable with You October 24 – PNN took a closer look at the upcoming Presidential Elections in Iran by speaking with political analyst Ali Afshari and journalist Issa Saharkhiz. As former President Mohammad Khatami debates the merits in running for election again, former Speaker of the Majlis, Mehdi Karrubi, has announced his candidacy. Other candidates are presently weighing their options. A list of possible candidates includes former Minister Ali Nateq Nouri, Tehran Mayor Mohmmad Baqer Qalibaf, current Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, and others.Yet, all eyes are on Khatami to make up his mind. Mr. Afshari was of the belief that any presidential election in Iran needs to have clarity of thought with respect to national interest and what he defined as national dignity and a dedicated path to democracy. Mr. Saharkhiz was of the mindset that elections in Iran will bring about the opportunity to accomplish things that may not be possible during normal times. He further stated that this is the time for all groups to be engaged, to contribute to the process, and to avoid being a criticizing force. Concerning the potential candidacy of former President Khatami, Mr. Afshari noted that his choice would be effective, because the Council of Guardians will have a harder time rejecting his qualifications, whereas with other candidates this would be a likely obstacle. Mr. Afshari, however, noted that if Mr. Khatami wants to run again, he must make it clear to the people that he can maneuver around the blocking forces that prevented him from achieving many of his goals during the first two terms of his presidency. Mr. Saharkhiz was of the mindset that any social movement in Iran must be sustainable and concrete.

News and Views October 19 – PNN’s stringer reported live from Iraq that an explosion in Baghdad killed two and wounded five others. Also reported were attacks by Iraqi militants on Sunni militias who are supporting coalition forces. According to reports, five Iranian militants were arrested in Khanegin. No further information was provided. In other news, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the next days are critical for Iraqi leaders to finalize the draft agreement on the future of U.S. troops in the country. Mr. Zebari said that currently in the drafted agreement there are no provisions for a permanent military presence. The current draft spells out a timeframe of three years. Iraqi political analyst, Dr. Abdolreza Karimi, said the U.S. Strategic Security Agreement would be passed by the Iraqi parliament.

News and Views October 20 – Lebanon’s prime minister condemned the recent violence against Iraqi Christians in Mosul. Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ordered an immediate investigation into the murders of Christians in Mosul. P